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Football reforms will not damage Premier League, insists Culture Secretary

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer (Victoria Jones/PA)
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer (Victoria Jones/PA)

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has insisted the Premier League will not be damaged by football governance reforms supported by MPs.

The Football Governance Bill would establish an independent regulator for the men’s game in England in a bid to ensure clubs are run sustainably, financial resilience across leagues, and that fans are properly consulted on club heritage matters.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has warned there is a risk regulation could “undermine the league’s success, thereby wounding the goose that provides English football’s golden egg”.

Conservative MP Luke Evans (Bosworth) echoed the concerns, asking Ms Frazer: “Does she believe that the regulator will have the ability to chart that very fine line between Uefa, Fifa and currently what she’s proposing? Because that’s going to be pretty tough.”

Ms Frazer, speaking during the Bill’s second reading debate, replied: “We do not want to do anything at all to damage the Premier League, it is world leading, it’s worth £7 billion, people look to it across the world.

“What we are doing in this legislation, and we have worked very, very closely with the Premier League, with EFL and others, to try and get this balance right.”

Ms Frazer earlier told MPs: “If we want English football to remain a global success story we have to ensure our pyramid is financially sustainable, and I’m proud to say that this Football Governance Bill is going to do exactly that.”

Conservative former sports minister Dame Tracey Crouch, who led a review of football governance in the wake of proposals for a breakaway European Super League, said: “I love football and while the Premier League continues to cast me and others who support this Bill as the enemy of success, investment, growth and international competitiveness, I would argue that quite the opposite is true.

“The Premier League is one of our finest exports and nothing in my review or this Bill changes that.

“Instead, this Bill protects the pyramid from the vulnerabilities and fragilities that have challenged football over the years; it protects football clubs from those owners who forget they are merely custodians of something greater than a trinket.

“It serves to protect fans, clubs and entire communities from losing their heart and soul and for that I hope the whole Parliament will come together to support this Bill and get it on to the statute book as quickly as possible.”

Premier League File Photo
The Premier League logo (Mike Egerton/PA)

Dame Tracey also expressed disappointment that the ongoing row over financial distribution between the Premier League and the English Football League (EFL) remains unresolved, adding: “So here we are with the regulator requiring powers to intervene as was promised over and over again.”

Labour MP and Manchester City fan Jeff Smith (Manchester Withington) said there is “nothing in this Bill that will jeopardise” the Premier League’s success, adding there had been a “fair amount of scaremongering” in recent weeks.

The Government also faced criticism for not including parachute payments in the remit of the proposed regulator.

Ms Frazer said: “The regulator will need to undertake a holistic evidence-based assessment of the system of financial distributions as part of its State of the Game report, and this would include an assessment of parachute payments.

“But parachute payments have been excluded specifically from (the) backstop mechanism to ensure that the two final proposals, because the final proposals will be a proposal by the Premier League and EFL, to ensure that those are easily comparable.

“And their impact on financial sustainability and resilience could be a relevant factor in both the decision to trigger the backstop and the final choice in relation to a proposal.

“But more generally the regulator can look at the impact of a parachute payment on a particular club when it comes to the licensing regime.”

Conservative MP Dame Caroline Dinenage, who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee, said: “We need reassurance that the regulator has the teeth to trigger its own backstop powers and impose a fair settlement when and where it deems necessary, and without any undue delay.

“We also need indication from the Government as to how the regulator will curb reckless spending of clubs trying to keep up with those in receipt of the parachute payments.”

MPs also criticised the move to scrap FA Cup replays from next season, with Conservative MP Shaun Bailey (West Bromwich West) describing it as a “complete kick in the teeth” for clubs further down the football pyramid.

For Labour, shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire said: “This new law will not fix all of football’s problems, and nor is it designed to.

“I believe it can be transformative if it is done right, both through its passage in Parliament and in the crucial implementation phase.”

Concluding the debate, Sport minister Stuart Andrew said the “landmark” Bill’s statutory tests will “prevent unsuitable owners at the point of entry, before they can do harm to clubs”.

He added: “Strengthened tests and robust powers to remove unsuitable owners will mean that fans have suitable owners that they deserve.”

The Bill received an unopposed second reading and will undergo further scrutiny at a later date.

On Monday evening, the Premier League’s Mr Masters said: “We are taking a big risk with a very successful industry and so we’re asking MPs and peers to look at the Bill very carefully and to look at it with a dispassionate head on and make sure that all of football benefits from it, and we don’t bump into unintended consequences.”